With the cooler weather of autumn finally upon us, the Red Rock Canyon Desert Tortoises are getting ready for brumation. Unlike hibernation in mammals, brumation in reptiles is not considered true sleep. Instead, their metabolisms, or body processes, slow down dramatically and they are mostly inactive during the winter. Sometimes desert tortoises will come out of their burrows on particularly warm winter days, or to have a drink if it rains, but otherwise they don’t move much in cold weather. If you want to learn more about the differences between brumation and hibernation, this blog is a great resource.
To prepare for brumation, desert tortoises begin eating less as the weather gets cooler. When we think of mammals hibernating, we often imagine bears or squirrels gorging themselves to put on weight for the long winter months. Because desert tortoises’ bodies get so cool during cold weather, however, they cannot digest food during that time. It’s important that their digestive tracts are mostly empty before they begin brumation, or they could become ill. Going to bed on an empty stomach is a good thing for a tortoise!
Friends of Red Rock Canyon volunteers will continue with feeding and soaking days through the end of September. The remaining feeding days will be at 8 a.m. on September 14th, 18th, 21st, 25th, and 28th. Soaking days will be at the same time (or later if the torts are sluggish in the mornings) on September 16th and 23rd. Come out and visit for your last chance to see some tort activity before next spring!